Why the Jews? Why has antisemitism plagued the world for more than 2,000 years?
|A woman who is concealing her face sits on a park bench marked "Only for Jews." Austria, ca. March 1938|
Judaism is an ancient monotheistic religion with unique traditions and customs. In its origin stands obligation to God and his commandments. In the Pagan world such conduct was considered very strange. Even in the Hellenistic and Roman world, Jews were "the others" and hated and feared as such.
The Roman historian, Tacitus, wrote in the beginning of the 2nd century about the Jews as he saw and understood them. In his understanding, Jewish customs shaped them as evil strangers. "Among themselves they are inflexibly honest and ever ready to show compassion, though they regard the rest of mankind with all hatred of enemies."
By the Middle Ages a negative image of Jews as individuals and as a collective, was built. Jews were accused of having crucified Christ and not accepting Him. They were considered the dark ones both physically and mentally.
Judas Iscariot became the symbol and inclination of betrayal for money. More negative characteristics were added—the capacity of Jews to handle money cleverly and exploit others and their Jews were the middle class. The lower class considered them exploiters who were in favor and interest of the upper class.
People began to believe that the Jews, dispersed throughout the nations, must have some common goal leading them that was both mysterious and dangerous. Judaism became a symbol of something vile and anti-Jewish stereotypes became part of the general Christian European culture. In the modern era, antisemitism added a political dimension to their ideology of hatred. Publications such as Protocols of the Elders of Zion generated support for false theories of an international Jewish conspiracy.
Illustration from an antisemitic children's primer Germany, 1936.— US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Radical antisemitism didn't refer to Judaism as a religion, nor as a nation. It was an ideology of prejudice which combined secularized religious myths with pseudo-scientific theories and racism. The Jews were treated as a race, regardless of his or her acts or conversion. Nothing a Jew would have done could have changed his racial character in the eyes of the new anti-Semites.
Modern politics across Europe embraced anti-Jewish prejudices. Antisemitic movements emerged in which millions of Europeans knowingly and willfully embraced antisemitic ideologies by the end of the 19th and early 20th century.
|SA men carry banners which read "Germans! Defend Yourselves! Do Not Buy From Jews!" |
Berlin, Germany, March or April 1933.
This new ideology of prejudice claimed that all evil of the modern society (economic problems, communism, etc) was a direct result of Jewish actions and could be solved accordingly. The Nazi party gave political expression to the theories of racism.
Antisemitism became a political tool.